There is a difference, Gerry Caplan writes, between a mere Member of Parliament and a Great Parliamentarian. Great Parliamentarians respect the institution. Members of Parliament are like the kid who hides a straw in his desk and uses it to shoot spitballs at his classmates.
In the last parliament, the two biggest spitballers were Pierre Poilievre and Paul Calandra,
who made a mockery of the House of Commons and their jobs on a daily basis. The first never compromised an inch, however extensive the oppositon. The other invaraibaly failed to answer the question he was asked. Yes, they had been MPs, elected as such. But they chose not to be parliamentarians. In the end, almost the entire Conservative caucus were afflicted by those two hazardous superviruses – Calandrism and Poilievritis – fatal for the spirit of parliamentary democracy, and eventually for the entire Harper government.
Caplan says it's easy to spot a great parliamentarian. If you wish to become one, there are certain things you must do and not do. First there's the matter of heckling:
There’s nothing the matter with heckling, as long as it’s relevant, witty, pointed and occasional. Dogs bark. Owls hoot. Two-year olds scream. Parliamentarians are none of the above, though too many MPs make you wonder. Remember Bambi’s wise father in the classic Disney cartoon? Say nothing if you have nothing to say. After last week’s session of Parliament, I guess the Conservative opposition has still not seen the film.
There are two other foretokens of a great parliamentarian:
1. Do not give your leader an enthusiastic, smirky standing ovation every time she or he puts three sentences together. You look dishonest, sucky and dumb. It just shows you have another agenda. Standing Os are for special performances, which do not come along very often. Don’t debase the currency.
2. Never read your question; it makes you look like an amateur. If you can’t ask a 60-second question without looking at notes you should become a dentist.Ask a serious question every time; there will never be a shortage of them. Don’t ever ask a minister to “do the right thing;” that’s just sophomoric. Don’t ever ask a minister to resign; they won’t, showing you are not serious about the question. Curb your feigned indignation. Ask a real question that demands a serious, substantive answer, one that embarrasses the minister if she fails to provide one.Treat the minister you’re addressing as a serious person who wants to do his job properly and is open to constructive questioning. If it proves otherwise, the minister looks bad, not the questioner.
And, finally, if a parliamentarian finds him or herself on a three person panel for television:
Try to have a serious debate with your fellow panelists on a serious issue.
Merely repeating talking points is not debating. The image of Paul Dewar trying to have a serious debate with Calandra -- and giving up in despair -- should be etched in the mind of every Canadian.
Parliament is supposed to be a place where serious issues are debated. We have seen little debate over the last ten years. But we've seen a lot of spitballs.